Newbill leads Penn State past Duquesne
UNIVERSITY PARK — D.J. Newbill looks more confident running the point. Sasha Borovnjak looks more confident, period.
Those two developments and a modest four-game winning streak gives Penn State a glimmer of hope as it enters the maw of Big Ten play.
Newbill scored a career-high 23 points and Borovnjak added 14 as Penn State held off pesky Duquesne, 84-74, before a sparse crowd Saturday at Bryce Jordan Center.
Newbill stuffed the stat sheet before an announced crowd of 5,521.
The sophomore guard pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds and dished out five assists despite a sneakers malfunction in the second half. Borovnjak shot 7 of 9 from the field, and the 6-foot-9 redshirt junior has scored in double-digits in three straight games.
Neither Newbill nor Borovjnak was more valuable to the Nittany Lions (8-4) on a wintry afternoon than former walk-on Nick Colella.
The New Castle graduate scored a career-high 15 points and made 5 of 7 shots from behind the arc. Colella drilled a pair of 3-pointers to key an early 9-0 run that helped Penn State take control of the game.
His final triple gave Penn State a 63-42 lead with 12 minutes left in the contest. “C'mon, he's from Pittsburgh,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said with a grin when asked about Colella's timely shooting. “That's his Super Bowl right there. He just showed he could do it. Now I want to see him do it in the Big Ten.”
The Nittany Lions open Big Ten play Thursday at Wisconsin and host Indiana on Jan. 7.
Duquesne (7-7) doesn't take much momentum into Atlantic 10 after losing three of its past four games following an upset of West Virginia.
The Dukes struggled to find their rhythm on offense, and they shot just a shade over 37 percent with senior guard Sean Johnson leading the way with 19 points. Duquesne, which visits Fordham Wednesday, made a furious rally and whittled Penn State's lead to 79-74 with 56 seconds to play.
“We were down 15 to West Virginia and we just stayed with the game plan, grinding and grinding, and we came back,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “We came up a little bit short.”
Newbill's playmaking ultimately proved to be too much. The Southern Miss transfer has settled in at the point following a season-ending foot injury suffered last month by All-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier.
Newbill, a Philadelphia native, fed Borovnjak with a no-look bounce pass off a pick-and-roll early in the second half, resulting in an easy layup. A better gauge of Newbill's development will be provided by the top conference in the country.
“We realize the Big Ten is going to be some of the toughest games that we face this year,” Newbill said, “but our principles don't change: play hard, defend, (be) tough, gritty.”
Newbill may have been the last one who should have been talking about not changing after what happened in the second half Saturday.
The 6-4 guard had to don new shorts after getting blood on his (Newbill's teammates formed a wall around him as he made the quick change near Penn State's bench).
Newbill later had to change shoes — twice.
He borrowed one from a teammate after his came apart at the seams while making a cut. That held him over until a team manager could retrieve a fresh pair of sneakers from the locker room.
“One of the walk-ons is a size 13 (same as Newbill) and I was screaming for a minute ‘What are you waiting for?' ” Chambers said with a laugh. “His sneaker was broken.”
Not much else was against the Dukes.